How virtual schooling is changing the game

Earlier this month, NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, congratulated staff and students on the success of the virtual school Aurora College, saying it opened a range of new possibilities for regional and remote students in 2016.

"This innovative new virtual approach allows students, regardless of where they live, to study in selective streams or pursue challenging senior subjects locally," Piccoli said.

"Students in rural and remote communities deserve the same opportunities as those in the cities.”

According to Aurora College’s acting principal, Chris Robertson, those learning opportunities may even surpass those of metropolitan students.

“Aurora College offers a model of blended and online learning which provides gifted and talented rural and remote students with the same or better curriculum opportunities as students in metropolitan areas,” Robertson told The Educator.

In its first year of operation, Aurora College has improved student learning across 40 of the state’s communities.

To achieve this, Robertson said the school offers a model of blended and online learning which provides gifted and talented rural and remote students with “the same or better” curriculum opportunities as students in metropolitan areas.

“Our curriculum draws on current research and is characterised by curriculum compacting, content acceleration to match students’ abilities as well as the opportunity to work with and learn from peers of similar ability and interests,” Robertson said.

“Aurora also provides Stage 6 students with the opportunity to learn from some of the best teachers in the state and study a range of challenging subjects that are not available in their ‘home school’.”

The emergence of more innovative online and distance learning opportunities coincide with efforts by the Federal and State governments to level the playing field between rural and metropolitan students.  

In February, Robertson told The Educator that the success of virtual learning schools around the world hinged on “taking kids from being online communicators to online collaborators” – something he said is an emerging trend in education.

He said that teachers in virtual learning environments need to manufacture the collaboration that otherwise “comes naturally” to students in the physical classroom.

As for how Robertson intends on keeping the momentum going, he said he and his team are designing learning and teaching activities that make use of collaborative platforms like Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps.

“A three-dimensional virtual playground and learning spaces – which are recent additions to our cutting-edge virtual learning environment – will also help to encourage a culture of collaboration in the college,” Robertson said.